Cándido Amador, en su más reciente internación.
This is something that no doubt happens in many countries around the world, but what concerns us right now is what is happening in the Dole pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, a territory that appears to have been exonerated by local political and regulatory authorities from all corporate duties and responsibilities, in addition to paying poverty wages and subjecting workers to extremely harsh working conditions and complete abuse of power.
This dismal scenario is compounded by continuous deforestation to annex new agricultural land for pineapple crops, the massive uncontrolled use of all kinds of toxic agrochemicals, including some reported as banned, the spraying of pesticides directly on workers in the fields, and the contamination of the environment. This includes polluting the sources of water of many local communities, some of which have been fighting for years against such practices, and which have even had to be supplied with water brought in by tanker trucks as their natural water sources have been poisoned by Dole and other companies.
And it is not as if these extreme levels of corporate and human cruelty are not known. Reports abound. The trade unions that manage to heroically resist Dole’s vicious and relentless persecution and many of the affected workers themselves have gone time and time again to the Labor Courts, bringing their complaints, have repeatedly denounced the situation to the press, and they have tried constantly to engage the multinational corporation in dialogue, but all has been to practically no avail. For every case that is solved, there are dozens that remain pending, lost in the perverse limbo that Dole’s pineapple workers are victims of.
“It’s all I ask for”2
Mariano has been working at Dole for several years. Some time ago he had to have surgery, and while this was a fairly simple procedure, complications later surfaced due to malpractice during that surgery, a malpractice that the healthcare system failed to recognize. He only found out about his condition a couple of years after the fact when it became increasingly difficult for him to work normally. Among other problems, he was often in pain and was unable to maintain several of the positions necessary to perform his assigned tasks.
When he went to the doctor, he was told that his condition had been caused by malpractice and that it was “inoperable”. The doctor thus recommended that the company take him off the fields and assign him a task that he would be able to perform. Mariano was reassigned, but just a few months later he was returned to his old tasks, the same tasks his doctor had advised against.
He had no choice but to comply, because otherwise he would lose his job, which was the only source of income for his large family. He tried appealing to Human Resources at Dole, but they responded that if what he had was inoperable, then there was nothing they could do about it either, and that the recommendation from his doctor was not binding for the company.
So Mariano returned to the fields, burdened by his pain, feeling humiliated, almost a slave. Until four months ago when he suffered a stroke that left his face partially paralyzed. The surgeons that treated him for the stroke said it was a result of the damage caused by the malpractice and the physical effort he has to make every day working under the sun.
The surgeons assured him that they would speak with the company to arrange for a new reassignment, but it has been months and Mariano has had no news.
Unable to bear the pain, he went to see the company doctor, but the doctor told him there was nothing he could do since he has no authority to request public health interventions or exams, that in the plantation he only deals with consultations and emergencies and is not authorized to refer patients to the Social Security Services, and that he was not in a position to recommend that Dole make any changes in the tasks workers are assigned to.
An impossible situation. “I just want to be assigned to a task I can perform on my feet, so I can continue supporting my family. It’s all I ask for,” Mariano says.
Cándido Amador has had a heart condition ever since he was sprayed with toxic agrochemicals while working in Dole’s pineapple plantations. As a result, he has had to be hospitalized several times and his diagnosis was made by cardiologists at the local public hospital. The event that caused his condition was traumatic, as Cándido lost consciousness in the fields and had to taken to the hospital in an emergency vehicle.
As with Mariano, the doctors recommended a reassignment, in his case any task that would not expose him to toxic agrochemicals. But, again, the company ignored the doctors’ instructions and has kept him working in the fields.
Cándido has tried to talk with the Head of Human Resources at Dole, but the answer he was given, he says, is that “I’m a good laborer and that’s why they keep me there.” Forced to accept this abuse, which puts his health and life at risk, Cándido asked that at the very least they refrain from spraying the lots he works in while he is there. And they promised they would.
But Dole’s promises are worth next to nothing. In December 2020 and January 2021, the spraying machines came within 30 meters of where Cándido was working, and on one occasion, the fumigator went into the very sector he was working in, spraying toxic agrochemicals in his area. When he was about 20 meters from Cándido, he cut the chemical sprays, went past Cándido, and then resumed spraying 20 meters ahead.
Every time they spray near him, Cándido feels pain in his chest, his throat goes dry, and his lungs close up. He almost always gets skin rashes and his eyes become irritated, but he must keep working to maintain the high productivity that makes him “a good laborer” so he can keep his job.
Desperate, he says he does not know what else to do or who to turn to, as the company does not listen to the union either. The labor inspectors, if they go at all, are not interested in what happens in the fields and only talk to management.
Dole’s local bureaucrats issue medical assistance orders with intentional mistakes, so that when affected workers seek treatment in a clinic they are turned away for bureaucratic reasons. Moreover, no one at Dole cares if to reach a healthcare center workers have to miss a workday they will not be paid for. And they do this over and over again, constantly, until the workers get tired, give up, and return to work sick or injured. In that way, Dole gets out of having to grant them medical leave and paying for sick days.
It is hard to imagine this reality outside the bubble of corporate terrorism that Dole has mounted in Costa Rica, with the complicity of the highest local and national authorities. In Costa Rica, it is hardly a secret that the conditions of agricultural workers in the pineapple plantations are deplorable and inhumane, and that the lives of these workers are literally in the hands of terrible entrepreneurs and worse officials, equally despicable humans.
It is a form of apartheid, a denial of rights so cruel it borders on slave labor. This Pineapple Republic of Costa Rica evokes the miserable, disgraceful, and shameful echoes of the Banana Republics of old.
Cándido and Mariano continue to leave bits and pieces of their health and their lives among the fields of pineapples, a fruit that brings pleasure to U.S. and European tables, where almost all of Dole’s production in Costa Rica is exported.
As this article was being prepared for publication, we were informed from Costa Rica that Cándido Amador was once again victim of pesticide spraying in his area, which led to him being rushed to the hospital after work, where he was admitted for 48 hours. The doctors who treated him once again stressed that the company had to transfer him to another area where he is not in contact with chemicals.
1- La Real Academia Española define el término como “secuaz a sueldo”.
2- El nombre de quien han brindado este testimonio fue cambiado para evitar represalias de la empresa.